Study after study shows that the overwhelming majority of Christian teenagers in the US aren’t reading their Bibles. Only about 1 in 5 have a regular, meaningful relationship with God’s Word. Most Christian teenagers rarely touch their Bibles, with another nearly 1 in 5 who report never reading their Bibles at all in a given year.
For the American Christian teenager, the Bible simply isn’t something that is holding their interest. When we consider that the Bible is the MAIN way God has chosen to make Himself known to us, this is a particularly alarming truth. How can students follow what they don't know? I believe that as youth workers, we’re in the perfect position to change that.
How do we do it? What can we do to help students develop a passion for God and His Word?
The good news is that I think it's actually much more straightforward than we sometimes make it out to be . . .
First things first, we have to address our students’ values. They have to believe that it is IMPORTANT to engage with the Bible. We have to start with the “why” before we begin with the “how.”
We start doing this by teaching them what the Bible has to say about itself. There are so many places we can go to show them how important the Bible is to their lives. Places like Psalm 119:9–11: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart, I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Or Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Or Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Or 2 Timothy 3:16–17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Or so many others. The Bible makes its own case for how vital it is in the life of the Christ-follower. But God’s Word isn’t the only way we teach students to value the Bible.
Our students must see US value the Bible. Ideally, they are in a home where the Bible is read and taught and referenced. But even if they are not, you can model for them the value of Scripture. When you ground your youth ministry in God’s Word, you show students how essential it is to know God in the Bible. When you teach the Bible, you unlock for them the wonder and power of the Word. When you counsel them and speak Scripture into their lives, you show them that God and His ways are authoritative over our lives.
Before we teach students HOW to engage with God, we must show them WHY it's essential. But teaching them how to meet God in His Word is vital. And something that I believe is missing in much of our youth ministries.
How do we help students grasp how dynamic, relevant, and meaningful the Bible can be? We have to get them in it and let the Word, in the power of the Spirit, do the work. Here are a few thoughts on how to get students digging-in to Scripture.
Teach them NEW and VARIED ways to engage with the Bible.
I believe most of our students have the desire to know God in the Bible, but they don't know how. We need to teach them multiple ways to interact with the Bible so that they grasp how dynamic it is. There are so many different techniques and methods for meeting God in His Word. You can find multiple different ways by searching on the Internet. We have recently released an awesome book for students that does this very thing. It's called "Wake Up: Rediscovering A Passion for God and the Bible." It's a 31-Day devotional (for students and adults) where every day teaches a different method of engaging with the Bible. (Look below for more info or to purchase your copies!) We need to get our students into the Word, and one primary way we do this is by filling their toolbox with different methods of accessing the Bible.
Wake Up: Rediscovering A Passion
for God and the Bible
Embrace the Power of Groups
In his book, The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg talks about how change is more likely to happen in a group setting. This is why group therapy is so successful in dealing with addiction. We are more likely to change our habits when we are making the change alongside others. Leverage this truth by engaging small groups in Bible reading initiatives. Use the “invite others” feature on the YouVersion app to have groups read a Bible plan together. Use GroupMe to build a text message thread for a Bible reading plan. Empower students to change their habits by getting them into the Word in groups.
Gamify Bible Reading
You may not be on the same page with me on this one at first. And I'm OK with that. But educators in our schools figured this out a while ago. The badges and rewards that are so common in video games are based on pretty solid research about the human brain. When we're rewarded with badges and the like in video games, it triggers a dopamine hit in our brains. The sensation compels us to want to achieve more. Educators have borrowed this model from video games to increase participation in learning in classrooms. They use posters or charts and “badges” to mark progress and reward students who are "leveling-up" when they hit certain milestones.
Have you ever considered having students compete against each other to see who can memorize the most verses? Or who can have the longest streaks for reading their Bible each day? Or who can hit certain milestones on a reading plan? If it sounds cheesy or gimmicky to you, I understand that. It's probably not a method I would personally adapt without a little hesitation. But the reasoning behind this method is pretty solid: If we know the Word is transformative, but students have a hard time engaging with the Bible, shouldn't we be willing to do what it takes to get students in the Word? If you think your group would respond to this, consider trying it out.
BONUS: Adjust Your Expectations
Early on in my ministry, I realized I had unrealistic expectations about my students’ engagement with the Bible. I was hitting them pretty hard about not being committed to spending meaningful time in the Word every day. This lead to frustration in some of my students. I realized I was working against what I was trying to accomplish.
I had to adjust my expectations. I had to realize these were teenagers. And while they are capable of great spiritual depth, not all of them are there yet. I had to understand that developmentally, many of my students were still taking baby steps when I was expecting them to be running full-sprint. I also had to adjust my expectations about HOW my students engaged in the Word. Do I believe the best way to meet God in the Bible is in solitude and silence first thing in the morning, before you've started your day? Yes. I do. I think that is the best way. But I had to acknowledge that I wanted students to develop a love for meeting God in the Word. If that meant the most interaction they might have with the Bible was listening to a few verses on their way to school, I was OK with that. I continued to push them toward more meaningful interaction, but I had to trust that the Word doesn't return void (Is. 55:11) and that any time spent in the Word is valuable.
For sure, there are barriers to our students engaging with the Bible in ways that they feel excite them. But there are plenty of ways for us to help change this. With some intentionality, we can make real change in the attitudes and behaviors of our students. We can lead them to rediscover their passion for God by meeting Him in the Bible.